Democratic establishment favorite Amy McGrath was leading progressive challenger Charles Booker by just over 8 points in their hotly-contested Kentucky primary on Tuesday ahead of results due out next week.
McGrath, a former combat veteran, was leading with 45 percent of the vote in the race to determine which Democrat will face off against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcGrath leads Booker in Kentucky with results due next week Ocasio-Cortez fends off challenger in House primary Democrats spend big to bolster struggling Hickenlooper MORE (R-Ky.) in November, with 54 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.
Booker, a Kentucky state representative who experienced a late surge of momentum amid the protests against racial injustice roiling the country, had 36.5 percent of the vote.
The race is one of a handful in which progressive insurgents on Tuesday were looking to challenge longterm incumbents or moderates backed by the political establishment, as they look to reshape the Democratic party.
However, results are not due out until June 30 as Kentucky, like other states, has experienced a surge in mail-in ballots to reduce the health risks from voting in person amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed an executive order allowing all of the state’s 3.5 million registered voters to request absentee ballots without providing an excuse for doing so. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday and received by June 27.
Meanwhile, the state’s two largest counties, Jefferson and Fayette, have chosen to withhold all results until June 30, the last day for counties to report election returns.
“As eager as we all are to get results, I am grateful for the extra effort and due diligence to make sure every voice is heard and every vote is counted. Right now, I want to thank every single person who has supported us along the way,” McGrath said in a statement Tuesday night. “As we wait for results, I hope everyone takes a moment to get a little rest, recharge your battery, and buckle up for what’s next.”
Kentucky is just the latest state to grapple with a spike in voters casting their ballots by mail during the coronavirus pandemic despite strong opposition from President TrumpDonald John TrumpBowman holds double-digit lead over Engel in NY primary McGrath leads Booker in Kentucky with results due next week NY Republican Chris Jacobs wins special election to replace Chris Collins MORE.
Primaries earlier this year in states like Pennsylvania and Georgia took several days to call as officials tallied up the votes — a harbinger of things to come in November.
In-person voting options were often chaotic, with long lines after Kentucky cut the number of limited polling sites for Tuesday’s primaries.
The delay in results will keep the suspense going for one of the most anticipated Democratic primaries this campaign cycle. Nearly 890,000 of Kentucky’s 3.5 million registered voters had requested absentee ballots as of last Tuesday, the last day to do so, according to the secretary of state’s office.
McGrath had long been seen as a favorite for the Democratic nomination, garnering support from party leaders and raking in record sums of money after her high-profile but unsuccessful challenge against Rep. Andy BarrAndy BarrMcGrath leads Booker in Kentucky with results due next week Andy Barr wins Kentucky GOP primary Progressive Booker emerges as late threat to McGrath in Kentucky primary MORE (R-Ky.) in 2018.
But Booker began surging in recent weeks amid unrest over systemic racism and police brutality after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis. The state representative was seen rallying with demonstrators at protests and speaking passionately on the issue, particularly after Breonna Taylor, an African American woman, was killed by police in the part of the state he represents.
Booker has also gone after McGrath for her absence from the recent protests in Louisville. He launched an ad last week featuring a clip from a June 1 Democratic debate in which McGrath says that she had not joined the demonstrations because she was spending time with her family.
The legislator received endorsements from national progressives, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezBowman holds double-digit lead over Engel in NY primary McGrath leads Booker in Kentucky with results due next week Ocasio-Cortez fends off challenger in House primary MORE (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersBowman holds double-digit lead over Engel in NY primary McGrath leads Booker in Kentucky with results due next week Joe Biden wins New York primary MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMcGrath leads Booker in Kentucky with results due next week Democrats spend big to bolster struggling Hickenlooper Biden campaign vetting Congressional Black Caucus chair Karen Bass as potential running mate MORE (D-Mass.).
But one of Booker’s most influential endorsements came from Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s former secretary of state and one of its most prominent Democrats. Grimes unsuccessfully challenged McConnell for his seat in 2014.
Whoever wins the primary will challenge McConnell, who easily prevailed over his Republican rivals in his primary on Tuesday in a race that has already been called.
The Democratic candidate will have a tough race against the well-funded McConnell despite strong desire by moderates and progressives alike to defeat him in November. The race is rated as “likely Republican” by The Cook Political Report.
McConnell on Tuesday expressed confidence of prevailing in November.
“I am confident Kentuckians will choose expanding freedom, creating jobs, and upholding our conservative values,” he said in a statement.
“The path to stopping extreme liberal ideas — like the Green New Deal, government-run health care, and open borders — runs right through our Commonwealth,” he added. “Kentuckians can count on me to continue stopping socialism in its tracks, fighting against radical liberal wish lists, and ensuring our values prevail,” he said in a statement after winning his own primary.